Longfin Eel (2020)

Anguilla reinhardtii

  • Karina Hall (NSW Department of Primary Industry)
  • Steven Brooks (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)
  • Victorian Fisheries Authority (Victorian Fisheries Authority)
  • Klaas Hartmann (University of Tasmania)

Date Published: June 2021

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Longfin Eel occurs along the entire eastern Australian coastline, from Cape York Peninsula to TAS, and is also found on Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands. Genetic studies indicate a single biological stock for eastern Australia, but, due to the absence of a cross-jurisdictional stock assessment, the species is assessed here at the jurisdictional level. Longfin Eel is classified as undefined in QLD, and sustainable in NSW, VIC, and TAS.

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Stock status Indicators
New South Wales New South Wales Sustainable

Catch, effort, standardised CPUE

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Stock Structure

The Longfin Eel has a wide species distribution that extends the entire eastern Australian coast from Cape York to Tasmania, and is also found at Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island [Beumer and Sloane 1990]. The stock structure was investigated via a microsatellite genetic study, and the results indicated a single panmictic biological stock along the east coast [Shen and Tzeng 2007]. However, there is currently no cross-jurisdictional stock assessment undertaken for the shared stock, so this assessment of stock status is presented at the jurisdictional level—New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria

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Stock Status

New South Wales

The Longfin Eel is a slow growing species that takes up to 22 years for males and 52 years for females to reach sexual maturity. It lives in estuaries and freshwater systems east of the Great Dividing Range until sexual maturity, and then migrates downstream and into the deep tropical ocean waters of the Coral Sea to spawn once before dying. This life history strategy can make eels particularly vulnerable to recruitment overfishing [Hoyle and Jellyman 2002]. The New South Wales commercial fishery targets the fully pigmented sub-adults or 'yellow eels' that return to the estuaries and does not permit fishing on adult eels upstream of tidal waters. A minimum size limit of 30 cm TL for Longfin Eel was introduced in 1997 and later increased to 58 cm TL in 2007. Some historical catches of juvenile 'glass eels' (40–70 mm total length, TL) and undersized 'yellow eels' (30–58 cm TL) were permitted from estuarine tidal waters for aquaculture seed stock and grow-out between 1995 and 2010 [Pease 2004]. Permitted quantities were highly restricted, with total catches of less than 300 kg of 'glass eels' per year (undersized 'yellow eel' catches were included in commercial catch statistics) and aquaculture production of eels in New South Wales ceased in 2014–15. 

Most of the New South Wales commercial catch is taken by eel trapping in the Estuary General Fishery, with seven main estuaries on average accounting for 73 per cent of the catch. Commercial catches of Longfin Eel rapidly increased in the early 1990s to a peak of 167 tonnes (t) in 2000–01 and then remained at around 80 t until the last four years when the export market decreased and processing facilities closed. As a result catches decreased from 82.6 t in 2014–15 to 8.2 t in 2018–19. Standardised catch rates for eel trapping (in kg per days fished) had been declining before the reduction in catches and have continued to decrease rapidly over the last two years [Hall 2020]. In contrast, standardised daily catch rates (in kg per trap) indicate a more stable trend, with a less pronounced decline over the last two years, suggesting that the number of traps fished per day has also decreased. An interim total commercial access level (ITCAL) of 139.9 t was introduced in New South Wales in 2017 and will remain in place until transitioning to an adjustable total allowable commercial catch (TACC) in 2024. Current harvests are well below the ITCAL and it is not known whether a TACC of that magnitude would be sustainable.

Recreational harvests of freshwater eels (of combined species) are estimated to be small in New South Wales, with the most recent estimate of approximately 2 955 eels or around 2.18 t during 2017–18, although another 8 744 eels were caught and released [Murphy et al. 2020]. These estimates were based on a survey of Recreational Fishing Licence (RFL) Households, comprised of at least one fisher possessing a long-term (1 or 3 years duration) fishing licence and any other fishers resident within their household. The equivalent estimated recreational harvest in 2013–14 was smaller, at around 1 024 eels, but a larger number of 16 479 eels were caught and released [Murphy et al. 2020]. A survey of Aboriginal cultural fishing in the Tweed River catchment identified freshwater eels as one of the main components of freshwater catches [Schnierer and Egan 2016]; however, statewide estimates of the annual Aboriginal harvest of eels in New South Wales waters are unknown.

While the data from the commercial fishery suggest that some reduction in biomass has occurred, and a more detailed stock assessment is warranted, overall the above evidence indicates that the biomass of the stock is unlikely to be depleted and that recruitment is unlikely to be impaired. Additionally, current fishing effort is a fraction of past levels (157 days fished in 2018–19 compared with 1 880 in 2014–15 and 6 721 in 2001–02). This is providing a temporary hiatus and the current level of fishing mortality is considered unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment impaired.  On the basis of this evidence, the New South Wales part of the stock is currently classified as a sustainable stock.

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[Walsh et al. 2003, 2004]

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Longfin Eel

Females: 52 years, 165 cm; Males: 22 years, 62 cm

Size at migration: females 74–142 cm; males 44–62 cm

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Fishing methods
New South Wales
Management methods
Method New South Wales
Catch limits
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Size limits
Spatial closures
Section 37 (1d)(3)(9), Aboriginal cultural fishing authority
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Size limit
New South Wales
Commercial 8.16t
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational 2 955 eels (2.2 t) of mixed freshwater eels (2017–18)

New South Wales – Recreational (catch totals) Estimate from Murphy et al. [2020], based on a survey of Recreational Fishing Licence households.

New South Wales – Indigenous (management methods) https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing/aboriginal-fishing).

Queensland – Indigenous (management methods) for more information see https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/traditional-fishing

Victoria – Indigenous (Management Methods) A person who identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is exempt from the need to obtain a Victorian recreational fishing licence, provided they comply with all other rules that apply to recreational fishers, including rules on equipment, catch limits, size limits and restricted areas. Traditional (non-commercial) fishing activities that are carried out by members of a traditional owner group entity under an agreement pursuant to Victoria’s Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 are also exempt from the need to hold a recreational fishing licence, subject to any conditions outlined in the agreement. Native title holders are also exempt from the need to obtain a recreational fishing licence under the provisions of the Commonwealth’s Native Title Act 1993.

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Catch Chart

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  1. Australian Survey Research 2012, Improving Inland Recreational Fishing Survey Report. DPI: Fisheries Victoria. Australian Survey Research Group Pty Ltd, Ormond, Victoria. 89 pp.
  2. Australian Survey Research Group Pty Ltd, September 2018, Victorian Fisheries Authority Recreational Fishing Survey 2018
  3. Beumer, J, and Sloane, R, 1990, Distribution and abundance of glass-eels Anguilla spp. in east Australian waters. Internationale Revue der gesamten Hydrobiologie und Hydrographie 75: 721-736
  4. Hall, KC, 2020, Status of Australian Fish Stocks 2020 - NSW Stock status summary - Longfin Eel (Anguilla reinhardtii), NSW Department of Primary Industries, Coffs Harbour.
  5. Head, L 1989, Prehistoric Aboriginal impacts on Australian vegetation: an assessment of the evidence. Australian Geographer 20(1): 37-46.
  6. Henry, GW and Lyle, JM 2003, The national recreational and indigenous fishing survey. Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Canberra, ACT
  7. Hoyle, SD, and Jellyman, DJ 2002, Longfin eels need reserves: modelling the effects of commercial harvest on stocks of New Zealand eels. Marine and Freshwater Research 53: 887-895.
  8. Inland Fisheries Service, Tasmanian Inland Recreational Fishery Management Plan 2018-28
  9. Murphy, JJ, Ochwada-Doyle, FA, West, LD, Stark, KE and Hughes, JM, 2020, The NSW Recreational Fisheries Monitoring Program - survey of recreational fishing, 2017/18. Fisheries Final Report Series No. 158.
  10. Pease, BC 2004, Description of the biology and an assessment of the fishery for adult longfinned eels in NSW. FRDC Final Report for Project No. 98/127. NSW Department of Primary Industries, Cronulla, New South Wales, 167 pp.
  11. Purser, J., Cooper, P., Diggle, J., Ibbott, T. Tasmanian Eel Industry Development and Management Plan, FRDC Project No 2012/208
  12. Richards, T, 2011, A late nineteenth-century map of an Australian Aboriginal fishery at Lake Condah. Australian Aboriginal Studies 2:64-87.
  13. Schnierer, S and Egan, H, 2016, Composition of the Aboriginal harvest of fisheries resources in coastal New South Wales, Australia. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 26:693-709.
  14. Shen, K-N, and Tzeng, W-N, 2007, Population genetic structure of the year-round spawning tropical eel, Anguilla reinhardtii, in Australia. Zoological studies 46: 441-453.
  15. Taylor, S, Webley, J and McInnes, K 2012, 2010 Statewide recreational fishing survey. Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane, Queensland
  16. Teixeira, D, Janes, R, and Webley, J 2021, 2019–20 Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey Key Results. Project Report. State of Queensland, Brisbane.
  17. Victorian Fisheries Authority 2017, Review of key Victorian fish stocks — 2017 Victorian Fisheries Authority Science Report Series No. 1.
  18. Walsh, CT, Pease, BC, and Booth, DJ 2003, Sexual dimorphism and gonadal development of the Australian longfinned river eel. Journal of Fish Biology 63(1): 137-152.
  19. Walsh, CT, Pease, BC, and Booth, DJ 2004, Variation in the sex ratio, size and age of longfinned eels within and among coastal catchments of southeastern Australia. Journal of Fish Biology 64: 1297-1312
  20. Webley, J, McInnes, K, Teixeira, D, Lawson, A and Quinn, R 2015, Statewide recreational fishing survey 2013–14. Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane, Queensland

Downloadable reports

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